Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Astroturf Tea Parties

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Fox News host Glenn Beck and his recent antics during an on-air special during which he repeatedly broke into tears because he loves (and fears) for his country. Since Beck aired that special, video clips of the program have circulated around the Internet, Stephen Colbert has mocked Beck for his odd behavior, and Fox News continues their mission to be the voice of opposition to the Obama Administration.

As many of you have probably read by now, there are protests scheduled in various cities around the United States for April 15. These "tea-parties" were first conceived after CNBC host Rick Santelli floated the idea in his now infamous on-air rant. Since then people have gathered in cities across America to protest against the government bailouts, taxation, spending, and large deficits, supposedly in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party where colonists were protesting taxation without representation.

Though many of these protests claim to hold no party affiliation, there has been a common theme of railing specifically against the Obama Administration's policies with some participants echoing some of the ugly sentiments that we saw during the campaign. While it is clear that people are very angry at the Obama Administration, it is not always clear why or what alternatives are being suggested at these tea-parties. Andrew Sullivan explains:

It's a protest of the bank bailouts orchestrated by Bush and now Obama. But surely these tea-partiers understand what would happen if we didn't bail the banks out. Are they advocating letting major banks fail? Or are they advocating a Krugman-style government take-over? No idea.


It's a protest against tax hikes. But there have barely been any! Are they arguing that the planned return to Clinton era marginal rates is an outrage worthy of the colonists ... only months after an election in which the winning candidate ran on exactly that platform?


It's a protest against government debt. Yay! I will leave aside the somewhat awkward fact that Fox News and Pajamas Media barely covered the massive debt racked up by the Republicans during a period of economic growth.

Don't get me wrong, there are some people who are also angry at the Republicans for getting us into this economic mess, but as Fox News has entered the scene to actively promote these acts that stem from supposed populist anger, the situation gets more complicated and seems a bit, well...contrived.

Fox News is dispatching their anchors all around the country in order to "cover" these tea party protests and for weeks now, have gone beyond just covering the story and engaged in actively embracing and promoting these events:

In fact, yesterday Fox News host Stuart Varney even exclaimed: “It’s now my great duty to promote the tea parties. Here we go!”.

Not only is Fox News promoting these tea parties, but corporate donors are helping to fund the demonstrations. From ThinkProgress:

...the principle organizers of the local events are actually the lobbyist-run think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. The two groups are heavily
and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests:
– Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters,
contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”
– Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local
events in Florida.
– Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “
clear message” to the public and media.
– Freedom Works has
several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.
– Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in
New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.

Freedom Works is an organization run by registered lobbyist and former Republican Majority Leader, Dick Armey and Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed's former lobbying partner. Is there any doubt that these organizations are actively involved in planning these "grassroots" uprisings? From the Freedom Works website:

Thank you for joining the massive movement of citizens that are opposed to the trillions of dollars in federal spending and the bailouts of Wall Street and failed businesses. With your help, we have been able to organize hundreds of Taxpayer Tea Parties across the country, from Santa Barbara, California to Amarillo, Texas, and all the way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Together, as one united force for liberty, we can take our country back!

and where does the "donate" button link to if you are interested in donating to causes like the tea-party:

Your contribution to the FreedomWorks Foundation will make a real difference
in the fight for limited government and economic freedom. Thank you. I look
forward to working with you.

Matt Kibbe
President and

As Jane Hamsher points out, Matt Kibbe was behind the attempt to keep Ralph Nader off of the ballot in the state of Oregon in 2004 which led to a complaint with the FEC for illegal collusion with the GOP.

So we have a supposed "grassroots" movement of people who are opposed to taxation, deficits, bailouts, and a host of other issues, who are having tea parties that are being promoted by Fox News (whose stated mission is to be the voice of opposition to this Administration) and funded by corporate lobbyists. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, this means that this movement is not a spontaneous grassroots uprising of the people, but an astroturf movement.
Here is an exchange that happened on Fox Business Network recently where a Think Progress editor called out Fox for promoting these tea parties. The host of the program says that there is a "big difference" in covering something and promoting something, but check out the what the host says coming out of the segment:

Thank you, panel. Excellent job. Okay. Why it’s time to party like it’s 1773. Next.


What is right though is the growing chorus of Americans that want their country and their liberties back. Anti-tax tea parties will happen all over the country Wednesday, carrying on in the American spirit that will send a message to Washington and Wall Street. … Remember, you have a right to voice your opinion and fight back.

the video: